PeerWise is an online tool where students create, answer and evaluate each other’s multiple choice questions (MCQs). While use of MCQs as an assessment method is often criticised as limited to rote learning, the actual process of writing and evaluating MCQs can facilitate deep, active and collaborative learning.

The learning opportunities PeerWise supports

The learning opportunities for students as described in the PeerWise instructor guide are repeated below:

  • Designing questions: Generating a question requires students to think carefully about the topics of the course and how they relate to the learning outcomes. Writing questions focuses attention on the learning outcomes and makes teaching and learning goals more apparent to students.
  • Choosing distractors: The act of creating plausible distracters (multiple-choice alternatives) requires students to consider misconceptions, ambiguity and possible interpretations of concepts.
  • Writing explanations: Explanations require students to express their understanding of a topic with as much clarity as possible. This acts to develop their written communication skills and deepen their understanding.
  • Answering questions: Answering questions in a drill and practice fashion reinforces learning, and incorporates elements of self-assessment. Students are shown how others have answered the same questions, allowing them to gauge how well they are coping in the course.
  • Evaluating quality: Evaluating existing questions incorporates higher-order cognitive skills, requiring a student to consider not only the content, but what makes a particular question more effective than other questions

How to access PeerWise

PeerWise is hosted by the University of Auckland where we have a dedicated University account that is managed by the Learning Technology Support team. To set up a PeerWise course we need the following;

  • a course title which the students will recognise, eg. the module code as displayed in Moodle.
  • a list of staff who will have administrative permissions for the course
  • a list of student IDs which can be downloaded in a spreadsheet from the Moodle grades.

We will create the PeerWise course and provide you with the randomly generated courseID (a 5 digit number). The students (and staff) can then be provided with the following instructions to create their PeerWise account and join the course;

  • Click the Registration link on the University’s PeerWise at
  • Choose a username and a password. The system operates anonymously and so your username will only appear to the PeerWise administrator. The password is not linked to your University password.
  • Enter [five digit number provided] as the course ID.
  • Enter your 8 digit University ID as your identifier and click ‘Create my Peerwise account’.

You should now see a link to the course and you’re ready to start. Register an email address in case you forget your password.

Creating questions

The PeerWise student guide provides images of the editing screens, and tips for writing effective MCQs are repeated below.

  • Make sure the question is very clear, and not likely to be ambiguous, and use professional language, and avoid slang or spelling mistakes.
  • Indicate one correct answer, and up to four distracters which should be plausible. Ideally, each distracter should correspond to a misconception that other students may have regarding the question.
  • Provide an explanation which will serve to help anyone who answers the question incorrectly to understand what they have done wrong.
  • The quality of your explanation is one of the criteria for how your question will be rated. You might like to provide an explanation corresponding to each one of the distracters for your question.
  • Tag your question with topics to which it relates. You can either select from a list of current topics, or you can add new topics of your own.

Answering questions and giving feedback

Since students will be completing this activity at different times they will need to return to PeerWise and check for new questions (all answer attempts are anonymous). Once you have answered a question, you will be given feedback on your response, and you will be shown an explanation of the answer.

The system then asks that you provide the following feedback (anonymously) on the question;

  • select the difficulty level you think best matches the question
  • give the question a ‘quality’ rating (see guidelines below)
  • add an encouraging comment in support of your rating.

Scores and badges

As students participate and contribute to PeerWise they will earn badges, a reputational score which is an approximate measure of the value of their contributions to others, and an answer score which relates to how well they have answered attempted questions.

The system produces an anonymous leaderboard so that students can gauge their contributions relative to their peers, and to add an element of gamification that encourages engagement. Visit the scoring for fun and extra credit page for further details about the scoring algorithm and student impressions of the gamifying aspects of PeerWise.

PeerWise student guidelines

The PeerWise student guidelines are repeated below for convenience.

When rating a question, you should be judging two things:

  • whether you think the question is of a high enough quality that it could appear in a final exam.
  • whether you think the explanation provided with the question is sufficient so that if someone answered the question incorrectly the explanation would help them to understand what they have done wrong.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • you should not rate questions differently based on their difficulty – an easy question is just as useful and just as likely to appear in the exam as a hard question.
  • be fair with your ratings – you should justify a poor rating with a comment to the author of the question, or by agreement with a previously written comment.
  • make sure any comments you provide are constructive – you are rating questions written by your peers so provide the kind of feedback that you would find useful and encouraging yourself.
  • to encourage everyone to participate equally, all activity on PeerWise is anonymous (however your instructor is able to track contributions).